When Karl Marx Worked For Horace Greeley

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A trickle of further letters from Marx and Engels to the Tribune did continue, and Greeley and Dana used them when they found inclination or space. But the spacious enthusiasm of the days that had prompted the first of them had died away. It had been smothered partly by the rush of American events and partly by the realization that Marx, for all his efforts to stake a claim in the Tribune, did not, after all, speak our language. Dana, ever the diplomat, and appreciative of what Marx (alias Engels) had contributed over the years, notified him when the war between North and South broke out that while all other foreign correspondence had been suspended because of the emergency, he himself could continue contributing—although on a still more reduced basis. Marx, increasingly dubious of his American outlet, wrote for a while longer, only to learn that Dana himself, after what was reported to have been a falling-out with Greeley, had left the staff of the Tribune to become assistant secretary of war. Not long afterward, Marx’s own arrangement was canceled, too.

Now the frustrated team in London, who had so often reviled Dana as their immediate taskmaster, came around to the view that he, no less than they themselves, had been just the exploited wage slave of Greeley. “It’s that old ass himself who is really responsible for everything,” said Engels, as the curtain of their life with the Tribune rang down.

Marx was never again a correspondent for another newspaper. He had by now finished a great part of Das Kapital, for one thing, and henceforth went on to lead in organizing the Communist First International. Greeley, for his part, never once mentioned in his own memoirs the name of the most famous and controversial man who had ever worked for him.

Today all that remains of their episode together is a bundle of faded letters, a rash of multilingual expletives, and a file of published articles of whose authorship one can only rarely be quite sure. For Marx the collaboration was something less than a total success, for he never made Marxists of the subscribers to the New York Tribune. Did Greeley’s Tribune, in turn, with its hospitality and willingness to give free run to new ideas, have any effect upon Marx?

Perhaps it was too much to expect that any outside influence (particularly when money was involved) would have any effect on that somber man, pursued by his own demon of the absolute. Still, although Marx and Greeley found they had little in common save sheer journalistic energy and a gift for rhetoric, there were occasions when what either one of them said could well be put into the mouth of the other. Such an instance occurred on the last day of 1853, when many of the readers of the Tribune were as absorbed with the issues of East and West, of freedom and organization, as their descendants are today:

“Western Europe is feeble … because her governments feel they are outgrown and no longer believed by their people. The nations are beyond their rulers…. But there is new wine working in the old bottles. With a worthier and more equal social state, with the abolition of caste and privilege, with free political constitutions, unfettered industry, and emancipated thought, the people of the West will rise again to power and unity of purpose, while the Russian Colossus itself will be shattered by the progress of the masses and the explosive force of ideas.”

That passage was written by Karl Marx, not by Horace Greeley. You will not find it, though, in the official collected works of the father of Soviet communism.